College Football Top 25: Week 1

College Football Top 25

The 2021 college football season is finally here, and it truly causes for excitement. Yes, Week 0 was already played but there was not much to talk about in terms of the teams involved. For the first time since 2019, there are no uncertainties, no condensed schedules, and many new faces to get to. So, without further adieu, we bring you our first installment of the weekly college football top 25. This will be a way more realistic ranking than what the AP poll gives us weekly, and will not focus on how much history each team has, strictly how good they are right now at this moment. 

1. Oklahoma (0-0) (0-0 Big 12)

Last week: NA | This week: at Tulane (0-0)

The Sooners had a pretty shaky start to their 2020 campaign. They dropped two of their first three games and things were looking bleak. Once first-year starting quarterback Spencer Rattler got settled in, however, it was a whole different story. They won out from there on, and eventually ended up taking home the Big 12 championship, finishing the season ranked sixth. 

This year, they bring back a ton of production, including Rattler who may be the best quarterback in college football. Their notoriously bad defense is actually superb this year, and players like Nik Bonitto will be recognized on the national stage rather quickly. All in all, this has got to be the year for head coach Lincoln Riley and his team. After several playoff exits in the past, Oklahoma will look to finally get over the hump and win the national title.

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2. Alabama (0-0) (0-0 SEC)

Last week: NA | This week: vs* Miami (0-0)

The defending national champions head into this season with a lot to replace, but they’ve got the tools to do so. This season, by far, rests on the shoulders of new starting quarterback Bryce Young. Young has impressed tremendously throughout spring and fall camp so far, but only time will tell if it can translate to in-game play. Replacing weapons like Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Najee Harris is another daunting task but Alabama is the poster child for reloading in college football, and they will do it yet again. 

On the defensive side of the ball, they bring back a projected nine starters overall. Names like Will Anderson Jr., Josh Jobe, and Malachi Moore lead the way with all the star power that this unit has. This will be a ferocious group that definitely ends up being top three in the SEC. In their Week 1 matchup, we see one of the more exciting games early on against a good Miami team. Miami may be able to keep this one close because of the novelty of the Crimson Tide’s offense, but in the end, Alabama should pull away and make a statement early.

3. Clemson (0-0) (0-0 ACC)

Last week: NA | This week: vs* Georgia (0-0)

After a disappointing semifinal loss to Ohio State, Clemson is back and ready to roll again in 2021. Like Alabama, they suffered tremendous losses in production, including the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Trevor Lawrence, and first-rounder Travis Etienne who both went to the Jacksonville Jaguars. While Lawrence was one of the best college quarterbacks of all time, his replacement D.J. Uiagalelei is certainly no slouch. In two starts last year, Uiagalelei threw for around 800 yards, with six total touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s probably the best replacement for Lawrence that Clemson could ask for and they should be in good hands, especially with star wide receiver Justyn Ross returning this year from injury.

A defensive side that was very good up until their final game, the Tigers return an incredible 10 projected starters on defense, which immediately puts this unit as one of the best in the country. Andrew Booth Jr., Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy, and James Skalski are all emerging superstars in Brent Venables’ defense and will lead the way for them this year. Once again, like Alabama, Clemson comes into week one with a thrilling matchup against Georgia. The Bulldogs are (spoiler alert) our number six team in the country and this game is a must-watch on September 4. Whoever wins this one will propel themselves mightily in the rankings, and put some early remarks on their playoff resume. 

4. Ohio State (0-0) (0-0 Big Ten)

Last week: NA | This week: at Minnesota (0-0)

Another year and another really good Ohio State team. Like a lot of our top teams so far, Ohio State is turning to a new signal-caller this year after Justin Fields was taken by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Unlike the other teams, however, we don’t really know who the quarterback is going to be. The battle is between Jack Miller, Kyle McCord, and C.J. Stroud and it’s the most competitive in the country. My early guess says we will see Stroud out there next week against Minnesota, but it will be very interesting to see.

Whoever the quarterback is, he will have talent all around him. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave are the best receiver duo in the country, and Jeremy Ruckert is a great option at tight end. The offensive line is built on guys like Thayer Munford, who hopes to be a first-round pick in next year’s draft, and the defense is helped by guys like Zach Harrison and Sevyn Banks. While they did lose a good amount of production, the Buckeyes are still in a nice position to contend this season. 

5. Iowa State (0-0) (0-0 Big 12)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Northern Iowa (0-0)

The best young head coach in the nation Matt Campbell has assembled his Cyclones for what is presumably one last ride this year. After a heartbreaking defeat to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship, Iowa State was victorious in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl over Oregon 34-17. Coming into 2021, however, this team wants more, and it’s not just the Big 12 championship. It’s hard to picture an Iowa State team being national contenders but that’s what they truly are this year.

The Cyclones return the most talent in the country. A total of 18 protected starters on offense and defense combined are coming back, including some of the top names in college football. Brock Purdy is a top 15 quarterback in the nation, if not higher. Running back Breece Hall is the best at his respected position in the country, same for tight end Charlie Kolar, and linebacker Mike Rose. On top of all this, Iowa State returns one of the best lines in the country, after not losing anyone to the NFL Draft or graduation. This team is going to bring the Cinderella story into the national spotlight this year, and if they can take care of business and knock off Oklahoma, they are a shoo-in for the playoff. 

6. Georgia (0-0) (0-0 SEC)

Last week: NA | This week: vs* Clemson (0-0)

If Georgia played at a bit of a higher level last season, then they would certainly be ranked higher with what they have coming back, but we aren’t too sold yet. Now, getting ranked at six is still really high but this is a team that could be top two if they play to their potential. It all starts with quarterback JT Daniels. Daniels performed very well in the four games he started in, but there were still some inconsistencies. If he can fix these, and show those four games weren’t a fluke, then he’ll be a top-five quarterback in the country just because of all the pure talent he has.

The rest of the offense brings back nine projected starters, including running back Zamir White who has all the talent in the world to be a great back this year. On the defensive side of the ball, only five starters return and the secondary is really the key to focus on. If they get the secondary down in time for Clemson, this is a team that will not only compete with the Tigers, but possibly take them out, and vault themselves, potentially, into the No. 1 spot.

7. North Carolina (0-0) (0-0 ACC)

Last week: NA | This week: at Virginia Tech (0-0)

The Tar Heels are another program we’ve got to be a little bit skeptical about. While they do have the best quarterback in the country in Sam Howell, it’s a little tough to tell how well he will perform off the bat without Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome, Javonte Williams, and Michael Carter. When you look at the rest of the starters leaving, though, it’s very exciting because, well, those are only four out of five total on both sides of the ball. 10 defensive starters come back, including Tomon Fox who is one of the best pass-rushers in the ACC. This defense will need to compete early against Virginia Tech next week because the offense could be a little slow to start, and North Carolina cannot drop a game if they want to go to the playoff. 

The Tar Heels’ schedule, and plan, are pretty simple this year. Win and you’re in, lose and you’re done. With the biggest game being at a very unknown Notre Dame team, North Carolina has a genuine chance of running the table if they can get off to a fast start. They do this in the regular season and they will set up a date with Clemson where the winner will go to the playoffs.

8. Cincinnati (0-0) (0-0 American)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Miami of Ohio (0-0)

The first group of five teams on our list, and certainly not the last. We last saw Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, where they suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Georgia. This team comes back in 2021 with a real chip on their shoulder. They have the ability to make a serious push for the playoffs, thanks to a tough non-conference schedule, and all that returns. The first key name to mention is quarterback Desmond Ridder. Ridder is undoubtedly a superstar. He does it with his arm and with his legs and teams had a very tough time slowing him down last year. 

Other than Ridder though, this team is packed with great players. Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant are one of the best cornerback duos in the country. The offensive line returns some very experienced players and the Bearcats look to be in solid shape for the season. Again, the only way to make the playoffs is to win out, and that might not even be enough, but two road games against Indiana and Notre Dame could get Cincinnati where they want to go, should they impress.

9. Indiana (0-0) (0-0 Big 10)

Last week: NA | This week: at Iowa (0-0)

The biggest dark-horse in the power five last year was this Hoosiers squad. Head coach Tom Allen Sr. is really building a hard-nosed, tough, football team. With quarterback Michael Penix Jr. expected to make a full return from his torn ACL, Indiana is ready to run it back for another season. Last year, they were oh so close to a Big 10 championship game but their comeback against Ohio State fell short. This year, with a great quarterback at the helm, a star wide receiver in Ty Fryfogle coming back, and around 15 other starters returning, Allen’s team will hopefully win the big game against Ohio State this year, and maybe even change the tide in the Big 10 for years to come.

It all starts next week, however, with a huge matchup in Kinnick Stadium against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a very good team that we will get into in a second, but this is a must-win for Indiana to gain some momentum early. 

10. USC (0-0) (0-0 Pac 12)

Last week: NA | This week: vs San Jose State (0-0)

For all the disappointment that USC has given us in the past after some serious hype, they may actually be deserving of it this time. The jury is still split on how good quarterback Kedon Slovis really is but the team as a whole is very talented and looking to make a deep run in the Pac 12. 

Cornerback Chris Steele and edge rusher Drake Jackson highlight this group on the defensive side of the ball where they will need to be at their best this year. The real struggle seems to be the offensive line. While they did hire new staff for this unit, we’ll see how well they can perform without Alijah Vera-Tucker. The San Jose State game will be a nice tuneup for them, but right after they get thrown into the mosh pit against Stanford, followed by a really tough schedule the rest of the way. USC has the most potential to see the highest fall in these rankings. Can they finally live up to expectations? Only time will tell. 

11. Texas A&M (0-0) (0-0 SEC)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Kent State (0-0)

With all that the Aggies lost last season, it’s very hard putting them here at 11 but there’s just too much talent to not do it. We start with running back Isaiah Spiller. He’s a top-three back in the country and is complimented by Devon Achane and Ainias Smith. Texas A&M also has, arguably, the best tight end in the country in Jalen Wydermyer

Where things get a little dicey for this team is quarterback. Two redshirt freshmen in Haynes King and Zach Calzada are currently battling it out in training camp to be the starter, and it’s really unknown who it will be. These guys don’t come with a huge billing and it will be interesting to see how long it takes either to get going. The Aggies do face Colorado in week two so there really is no time to get settled in.

12. Washington (0-0) (0-0 Pac 12)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Montana (0-0)

Washington is a team that sits in a really interesting position for 2021. Last year, they wound up winning the Pac 12 North, only to be eliminated from the championship game because of Covid-19. Now, all eyes are on the Huskies, once again, as they return presumably all 11 starters on offense. The biggest storyline is wide receiver and quarterback. We don’t really know who will be Washington’s No. 1 guy at the wideout spot, and they are in desperate need of one. Quarterback is also pretty interesting.

Dylan Morris won the job last year and played exceptionally well. However, there will always be a battle in camps, and the arrival of five-star Brock Huard brings some excitement to the coaches and fans. Morris will probably be the day one guy against Montana, but with Huard waiting in the shadows, it will be quite fun to see how this plays out. On defense, Washington brings back a really nice group of eight starters. On the other hand, defensive backs Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor Jr. are off to the NFL and it may be a bit challenging to replace both of them in such little time. It will be nice to see in next week’s game how well guys perform in the secondary, as they prepare for bigger matchups down the road. 

13. Iowa (0-0) (0-0 Big 10)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Indiana (0-0)

Already the third Big 10 team to make an appearance, Iowa comes in off of some serious momentum in 2020. After dropping their first two games of the season, the Hawkeyes won their next six to close out the year, including a late-season victory over Wisconsin. Iowa boasts one of the best players in the entire country in Tyler Linderbaum, a center who is a definite first-round pick in next year’s draft. Quarterback Spencer Petras is back with his backfield mate running back Tyler Goodson who ran for 726 yards last year and seven touchdowns.

The defense returns only six projected starters but they have some pretty nice depth and should be pretty well off. We mentioned this week’s game against Indiana earlier but it’s really going to be an exciting one. Kinnick Stadium will be absolutely rocking for the Hawkeyes. If Iowa can pull off this mini-upset, they will see a significant boost in the rankings and make an early statement.

14. LSU (0-0) (0-0 SEC)

Last week: NA | This week: at UCLA (0-0)

After losing almost every starter from the 2019 national championship team, we pretty much knew LSU wasn’t going to be great in 2020. They finished up the year at 5-5 but 2021 should be much different. Eight starters on both sides of the ball will return for the Tigers. Biletnikoff Award hopeful Kayshon Boutte is expected to have a huge year with the probable quarterback Myles Brennan. Brennan has been in and out throughout his career but putting it all together would make him a great quarterback. 

Looking at the defensive side, LSU boasts the best cornerback duo in the country in Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks. These two will lockdown any receiving corps they face and they’ll be a joy to watch. Opening against UCLA will be a nice test for the Tigers as well. They should win the game relatively handily but power-five teams are rarely easy opponents. If they handle business here, it can set the tone for the rest of their season in a positive light. 

15. Wisconsin (0-0) (0-0 Big 10)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Penn State (0-0)

After an amazing start to their 2020 season, Wisconsin got Covid-19 and never really recovered. This year, we hopefully should not have the same cancellations and this team will be right in stride early. Quarterback Graham Mertz is a rising superstar in the Big 10 and is poised for a huge breakout year. The Badgers did not lose much production this offseason, and what they did lose they produced nicely. For example, the loss of tackle Cole Van Lanen would be a huge one, except they bring in five-star tackle Nolan Rucci.

The opening matchup with Penn State this week will be a pretty fun one as well. Penn State is a huge unknown at the moment. They had a very disappointing 2020 but faced a ton of injuries. This game will be a lot closer than many will think at first but will be super exciting because of the atmosphere provided. Camp Randall has one of the best environments in the Big 10, which makes this one a must-watch.

16. Louisiana (0-0) (0-0 Sun Belt)

Last week: NA | This week: at Texas (0-0)

Our second group of five squad, the Ragin’ Cajuns were a bit of a surprise to many last year. After an opening week upset against Iowa State in 2020, we thought it could just be a fluke, but they finished up 10-1 with a nice bowl game victory as well. That was the second straight year Louisiana eclipsed 10 wins. Now, Billy Napier’s squad comes in with a ton of returning production. Like so many of these schools, Louisiana’s season truly relies on their quarterback Levi Lewis, especially with the departure of star running back Elijah Mitchell

The opener against Texas also brings some serious implications. We’ll see if this Louisiana team can defeat a major power five opponent once again. This year may be a little harder, though. The Ragin’ Cajuns will step into an extremely difficult environment, against a team they do not know much about due to the new head coach for the Longhorns. Overall, this is another must-watch this week and just adds to our great slate of games.

17. Oregon (0-0) (0-0 Pac 12)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Fresno State (0-0)

Last year’s so-called Pac 12 champions return with a very interesting, but fun roster. We use the term “so-called” because they only got into the championship because of Covid-19, before upsetting USC in that game. This year, the Ducks boast one of the best defenses in the country. Kayvon Thibodeaux is arguably the best defensive player in all the land and he’s accompanied by linebackers Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell who are set up for massive seasons.

Coming into the offseason, there were questions about who the starter at quarterback would be next week, but after Tyler Shough’s transfer to Texas Tech, the job is Anthony Brown’s, the former Boston College transfer. Brown is a solid quarterback with lots of potential, but he’s got to show us a bit more before we make the final verdict on him. Luckily, this week one game is a nice tuneup for Oregon against Fresno State because in just another week they will travel to Columbus to square off against Ohio State, which will surely be the matchup of the week.

18. Ole Miss (0-0) (0-0 SEC)

Last week: NA | This week: vs* Louisville (0-0)

One of the weirdest teams coming into 2021, Ole Miss was just 5-5 last year but brings in a riveting offense each week. A lot of their season rests on quarterback Matt Corral. He’s a fantastic football player but has tremendous inconsistencies. If he can control them, however, the whole country will be on watch. Besides Corral, Jerrion Ealy is a flashy running back who can do it all for this team. The offense though, wouldn’t be what it is without head coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is an offensive mastermind and will continue his genius strategy for Ole Miss next year. 

On the defensive side of the ball, things get a tad bit shaky. They will return nine starters which is very nice but it wasn’t necessarily a good defense last year. If they can do well enough to get the job done, this will be a team to be reckoned with, and they can show us that early on with a win over a power-five opponent. 

19. Florida (0-0) (0-0 SEC)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Florida Atlantic (0-0)

After a very good 2020 with Kyle Trask at the helm for the Gators, we are looking at a team with a lot to prove this year. The quarterback position has been turned over to Emory Jones, who is a major dual-threat but has yet to show us all that he can with his arm. This first game against Florida Atlantic will be huge to see if Jones can defeat a much weaker opponent handily. If he can’t, then Florida will probably see a good drop in the rankings.

Other than quarterback, the Gators have a ton to address on defense. Some of the staff has been turned over, but not all, and it’s cause for concern. The defense got ripped to shreds, letting up 28 plus points in half of their games last season. Hopefully, players like Kaiir Elam can help out to change the tide in that secondary, but only time will tell. 

20. Miami (0-0) (0-0 ACC)

Last week: NA | This week: vs* Alabama (0-0)

Right behind Florida is the big rival Miami. Manny Diaz’s squad had, yet again, another very successful offseason in the transfer market but things still aren’t perfect for the Hurricanes. With the departures of Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips, Miami turned to Deandre Johnson, the transfer out of Tennessee to try and fill the role. They also picked up wide receiver Charleston Rambo from Oklahoma who is a very, very, good player. Now, star quarterback D’Eriq King is back for another season, but after tearing his ACL and meniscus in their bowl game last year, we have no idea how great he will be. Doctors do say he will be healthy for Week 1, which is absolutely vital going up against Alabama. Speaking of the matchup, no team has more to gain from a win this week. If Miami can somehow pull off the upset, then they would receive an incredible jump in the rankings and clearly be a top-five team. 

21. Notre Dame (0-0) 

Last week: NA | This week: at Florida State (0-0)

The Fighting Irish have lost a massive amount of production to the 2021 NFL Draft and graduation. That all starts with quarterback Ian Book, who will most likely be replaced with Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan. The running backs in Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are the biggest focal points of this entire team and will bring a spark off the bat against Florida State. However, the biggest loss is the offensive line. Four of the five starters are gone and this is absolutely what is holding them back from a higher ranking.

On defense, we should see a nice returning group but there are holes on the front seven and secondary. It’s not necessarily weak spots on the team, just positions that need quick filling before they get blown away. Besides Miami, if Notre Dame really impresses in Week 1, they will be the highest riser. 

22. Texas (0-0) (0-0 Big 12)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Louisiana (0-0)

We discussed this Longhorn team a little earlier and now we get to go in-depth. This is probably the team at the more back of the pack that has the biggest chance of making some huge moves across the season. New head coach Steve Sarkisian will implement his beautiful offensive system with newly named starting quarterback Hudson Card. Card’s name being called was a very surprising move, as many thought Casey Thompson would get the starting nod. Texas did also lose some weapons but the return of sophomore running back Bijan Robinson will soften the blow. 

Defensively, Juwan Mitchell and Demarvion Overshown lead the way from the linebacker spot. They won’t have an elite defense but it should be good enough for the Big 12, and the team should be good enough to compete this year, and it all starts off with a statement win over Louisiana.

23. Arizona State (0-0) (0-0 Pac 12)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Southern Utah (0-0)

This team’s biggest stressing point will be putting everything together. True junior Jayden Daniels is entering his third straight year as the starting signal-caller and he’s taken big strides both years so far. A big bonus for Daniels is that every receiver and tight end that’s not named Frank Darby is coming back for the Sun Devils. The offense should once again lead the Pac 12 and be a serious force once they string it all together. Defensively, there’s nothing too special, they just need to get the job done. As long as they can keep the points and time of possession to a minimum, the offense will do the rest and carry the load for this team.

24. Coastal Carolina (0-0) (0-0 Sun Belt)

Last week: NA | This week: vs Citadel (0-0)

By far the biggest surprise and most fun team to root for in 2020 were the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. This team now comes into 2021 with sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall leading the charge in their run-heavy scheme that requires McCall to make several distinct reads. The Chanticleers do lose a solid amount of production, however, a strong amount of their core stays with players like Reese White and Isaiah Likely

Looking at the defense, the big loss is Tarron Jackson. Jackson had 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss last season and was by far the biggest contributor on defense. Other than Jackson, though, literally, everyone else is returning. Linebackers Teddy Gallagher and Silas Kelly will lead the way for this group while guys like Jeremy Brewer and C.J. Gunter replaced Jackson on the front seven. This defense could honestly be better than the offense this year, the opposite of the 2020 season. Overall, things are looking good for Coastal. The team has a super easy schedule and a technical 20 starters returning. If they can perform to the level they did last year, they’ll be right in the thick of it for a New Year’s Six Bowl.

25. Penn State (0-0)

Last week: NA | This week: at Wisconsin (0-0)

Injuries absolutely dominated this team last year, so there are a good amount of unknowns for this traditionally big program. They did end up winning their last four games after starting off 0-5 so that’s pretty promising but still a lot to be done. The quarterback for this team coming next week will be Tommy Stevens. Stevens has been just okay throughout his college career but he is experienced. The most exciting position group has got to be the running backs. Noah Cain and Keyvone Lee are two guys who can blossom this year. 

On the other side of the ball, we’ve got a lot left to see. Jaquan Brisker is one of the best safeties in the nation but he can’t do it all alone. This first game against Wisconsin will be a huge test for the Nittany Lions. Should they pull off the upset, they will tell us immediately that they are back in a big way. If they play poorly, on the other hand, we’ll still be keeping our questions, and adding a lot more.

Outside Looking In: Liberty, TCU, Oklahoma State, Utah, Minnesota

* Designates neutral site game

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